Sunday, 6 February 2011

Khartoum divides

Rather than attract the sympathy of the general population in Khartoum the 30 January demonstrations were met with indifference, if not outright mockery in some instances. By-passers reportedly ridiculed the young demonstrators and challenged them to keep their ground in the face of police oppression if they were really seriously out to get power. Supposedly targeting the new menace at its roots the security apparatus arrested, imprisoned, and tortured at will, while the National Congress Party (NCP) politicians continued to propagate the new government line of retail reconciliation with the sectarian opposition parties.
If the news reports of al-Intibaha are anything to go by the NCP made quite a generous offer to the Umma chief, Sadiq al-Mahdi, over the weekend, the post of prime minister for Mr al-Mahdi, in addition to four ministerial portfolios for the Umma Party in the government to come.  Sadiq’s cousin, Mubarak al-Fadil, denied that such a pot was in the cooking, noting that the rumour was designed to divide the opposition alliance, and possibly stimulate the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the archrival of the Umma Party, into accepting a similar deal with the NCP. While al-Fadil’s argument is reasonable it is equally reasonable to assume sincere bilateral bargaining between the Umma and the NCP, one that is closer to materialisation than to failure.
In the same al-Intibaha a columnist criticized Sadiq’s nomination for prime minister as disastrously uncreative, given that Sadiq was a relic from an age bygone. His comment however on the nomination of Sadiq’s daughter, Miriam al-Mahdi, for the ministry of social welfare was more telling. Miriam, affluent and empowered by right of birth into the quasi-royal Mahdi family, in his judgement, would replace Amira al-Fadil, the current minister who hails from a humble village on the White Nile, historically subject to the domination of the Mahdi house. “The Omdurman folks, of course, are more deserving of ministerial posts than the rustic bumpkins. Is this not the mentality of those who rule across time?”
A respectable Sudanese sociologist, Haidar Ibrahim, took the same route, albeit in the opposite direction, in expressing his admiration for the sophisticated 30 January activists. Referring to the NCP clique Ibrahim wrote “..where it not for the Sudanese people who paid from their livelihood for your education you would be today just peasants or nomads roaming after goats, cattle, or camels in the White Nile or ..”. Ibrahim, as he repeatedly does, was giving voice to the urban elite’s prejudice against the NCP leaders as rural bumpkins who assumed power in a slip of history.
The above is a demonstration of one dimension of the urban-rural divide in the Sudanese polity that is usually eclipsed by the ethnic distinction between centre and periphery. The polarisation in question is one between the established Khartoum urbanites, Westernised and historically privileged in the post-colony, and the new elite of migrant origin associated with the NCP which straddles this divide through the one party structure and the tentacles of a refashioned native administration in a manner that challenges and displaces the asymmetric relationship between the urban-based leadership of the sectarian parties and their rural clientele. For the ‘backward’ rural bumpkins, paraphrasing Ibrahim’s disregard, the NCP is nevertheless a venue of participatory democratisation vis-à-vis Sudan’s political establishment. 

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Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.